UnicaZürn was, apparently, a surrealist artist known for automatic drawing. I never knew that. Well, not until I just looked it up, anyway. The wonders of the internet. These days, at the touch of a button, you can learn all manner of things. You could, for example, go onto Freq and learn, from me, about the other UnicaZürn, whose début album, The Temporal Bends, I am listening to right now.
You could learn that the band are composed of Arkkon‘s David Knight, and one-time Coil man Stephen Thrower. You could learn that the cover artwork was done, rather tastefully, by the legendary Danielle Dax, and that she even sings on one of the tracks. Mind you, you could probably learn that from Wikipedia or MySpace or some shit. No, what you’ve come here to learn, specifically, is what the damn thing sounds like.
The opening, and title, and pretty much centrepiece track, “The Temporal Bends”, comes in four movements, though it flows seamlessly as one piece. When I was a kid I used to have a recurring dream about being trapped inside an enormous machine, all pistons and pumping brass thingumajigs. When my father was sick with cancer he recounted a dream of his that he was trapped inside a human body, all pulses and throbbing tumorous thingumajigs. If I were to imagine a cross between those two dreams, it would probably sound a bit like the opening of this album. Only there’s something actually quite pleasant going on here. It’s dark ambient drone, for sure, but they haven’t forgotten basic concepts like harmony and actually sounding deliberate. There are 101 bands doing this kind of electronica, but a lot of them seem to forget people actually have to listen to it as well. All the reference points are present and correct; Coil and Arkkon, obviously, but also the more recent Throbbing Gristle output springs to mind, though this seems far more focussed than the last TG album was. It’s also very good at giving a rising sense of menace- by the end of its 25-minute running time, it’s got pretty damn scary in a Sunn0))) kind of way. It doesn’t sound like them at all, but you could imagine the two bands both appearing on the same horror movie soundtrack.
That’s all well and good, but what really makes this album for me is the second track, “Nautilus”. It’s very evocative. For me personally, it’s very evocative in a very specific way. Every time I hear it, I picture the crew of a submarine making an elaborate underwater wildlife documentary; it’s got that kind of vibe to it, with plenty of Jean-Michel Jarre whooshy noises, as well as a beautiful piano overlay and some lovely distorted guitar. They’re going along quite happily, filming the weirdest fish you could possibly imagine in an underwater wonderland as they go about their business of eating plankton, or finding Nemo, or whatever it is fish get up to when they’re not playing football for Fulchester Rovers, and then disaster strikes! The plucky crew’s piano gets stuck on a crop of seaweed, and they are stuck, and can only listen as something immensely huge and primeval moves below them in the depths. It’s like Jacques Cousteau meets HP Lovecraft twenty thousand leagues under the sea. It’s really very good.
After this, the band go in for what sounds like some regressive hypnotherapy, or a very creative drug trial, in “Six Fabulous Mutations,” before getting ambushed by Alec Empire on the way out of the clinic – imagine the end of Nine Inch Nails‘ The Great Destroyer, if it happened to be on the same bus as you on your way back from having reiki treatment. And finally, if that wasn’t all spooky enough, Ms Dax herself turns up to sing creepy nursery rhymes at you on “Jack Sorrow”. It’s the perfect end to a very strange journey indeed.
I like this album a lot. The first time I wasn’t convinced, and found it hard to immerse myself in, but a second play seemed to unlock its watery depths, and now I could swim in it until… well, until the stars are right. Or until Freq decide to get someone with some less clunky metaphors in instead and flush me out of the airlock.
-Deuteronemu 90210, who learns something new every day-